Seven leads with Australian-made

The fourth interview in TV Tonight‘s series with network programmers is Tim Worner, Seven’s Director of Programming & Production.

Central to Seven’s 2011 year is its continuing output of Australian projects. Not only does Seven hold an enviable reputation with in-house drama, but it has a rich local slate in other genres: factual, lifestyle, sport and news.

“That’s something that I think is woven into the fabric of Seven: the telling of Australian stories,” agrees Worner. “Whether that be in Drama, which we’ve certainly gone long on this year and we’ve got even more in development, or whether that be in Factual. Definitely the telling of Australian stories is synonymous with the Seven brand and that’s something we work at maintaining.”

More recently Seven has been complemented by its newest siblings, 7TWO and 7mate. Despite the competition Worner views multichanneling less as a problem and more as an opportunity.

“We tend to lock ourselves away for a while and schedule the year ahead. This year the process was a lot more complicated and basically it took three times as long. But we’re happy with what we’ve emerged with and we’re set up to try and gather the most set of eyeballs with the three channels. That’s our aim and there’s a degree of confidence –I wouldn’t call it over-confidence– but I think there’s a confidence we can do that.

“Our three brands are very clearly defined. Our two newest brands will be even more defined by the end of the year. I think it’s pretty clear when you’re watching 7TWO or 7mate what it is you’re likely to get for the rest of the night.

“There’s a minimum of over-lap, that’s something we aim for and something we’ll keep working on.”

7TWO targets an upscale audience with British drama and lifestyle. Newest offering 7mate aims at males 16-49.

“7mate is probably the most defined of the new channels and is going exceptionally well and killing them in its target demographic.”

Seven’s most successful local show is the unstoppable Packed to the Rafters. It will be joined this year by Winners and Losers, from the same creator, Bevan Lee.

“At Seven we’ve worked and worked at growing our offering in terms of Australian drama and I think lately we’ve tried to actively step outside the circle a bit, with a few less uniforms and a few more shows that are fresh and contemporary and probably reflect the Seven brand. Rafters really does that and I think Winners and Losers will as well,” he says.

“In many ways it’s a very personal story for Bevan. It’s something he’s had kicking around inside that pretty amazing brain of his for quite some time. In fact prior to the first read-through I know that some of them were moved to tears by what he had to say. It’s about a bunch of 20-something girls who feel so intimated by what they’ve endured at school that they don’t really want to attend their ten year school reunion.

“But they do attend and it’s a fairly cathartic experience for them. They end up celebrating becoming winners on that night spiritually and they have a pretty big night out.”

The Pilot as been attracting positive comment in test screenings with audiences, but can a show revolving around 4 young females reach out to males?

“I don’t think it’s as broad as Rafters, but there are very few shows that will ever be as broad as Rafters. I wouldn’t say there’s nothing in it for blokes, but it’s the story of 4 young women and they are beautiful stories.”

The greenlighting of Winners and Losers comes at the same time as City Homicide goes on production hiatus. New episodes will air beginning this week, but Worner won’t be drawn on whether the show has come to an end.

“I don’t have a view at the moment. I would dearly love to be in a position where we were doing more City Homicide, but it’s not something that I can confirm right now. I can tell you it’s something that’s not off the agenda,” he says.

“The thing about that show is it’s got a far-greater shelf-life than a lot of Australian drama. It’s an open and close story inside the hour, a whodunnit. They have a value that goes beyond the first run. So in that way I would always like to have something like that as part of our Australian drama offering. It may just be that the best way to get to that point is to go back to City Homicide. It’s a show that I personally love and I’m not going to let it go easily.”

Also in development is Wild Boys, airdate to be determined, described as a colonial western. Worner says people will be excited by the cast that is emerging.

“The pitch for Wild Boys is not a pitch I will forget because they came in and pitched about 6 or 7 things and Wild Boys was about number 5 and we didn’t go much further after about 45 seconds of the pitch,” he says.

“We’re kind of adopting a philosophy of ‘let’s put on what’s not on.’ We looked across the landscape and thought ‘Gee I can’t see any bushranger dramas,'” he laughs.

“When it arrives it’s certainly going to look fresh and will have definite international appeal as well.”

Right now Seven is in launch mode of the second season of My Kitchen Rules. Buoyed by its 2010 success the show has more episodes and a bigger cast. Watch out for the ‘amusing’ team from Sydney, who appear as part of the second grouping.

“They are good-looking boys and you think they are complete klutzes. I don’t want to spoil it but it turns out to be a very surprising episode in a great, great way.

“We’ve pressed the button a bit harder this year, there’s no question. I think the shows are definitely better from the experience of the production team.”

Following on from last seasn’s twist, he also hints at another surprise.

“The last part of the series promises to be very exciting,” he smiles.

But Seven has already retreated from initial plans to launch another reality series, Conviction Kitchen this week. It is now rumoured to roll at the end of the month.

“The path that we are going to follow will give the show a far better launch than it would have ever had. It deserves that. This is an exceptionally well-made show. Sometimes it’s good to do something good with the power of this medium. I think we’ve seen that with the money that was raised for the Queensland flood victims and we see it every year in Perth with the Telethon which is such a tradition in that state,” he says.

“With this show it’s great to be able to give 12 young Australians a second chance. There are 12 amazing stories inside this series and the guy who deserves credit, apart from the show-makers who’ve done a beautiful job, is (Chef) Ian Curley.

“He cares about these guys. I’ll never forget watching him walk off into the late night with one of the youngsters in this show. He was walking the guy to the train station to make sure he got home and didn’t breach his Parole conditions.

“Everything that guy has done for the group and for this show is not just put on for the cameras. He’s really injected himself into the whole project.”

Worner insists the show is not a cooking series, but a show about transformation, without the hard edge of its Canadian prototype. Before sitting down to a meal at the Brisbane-based restaurant, he watched original casting tapes for a “before / after” experience.

“It was amazing to see them a few hours before in their casting tapes and then to see them going about their jobs. The stories of transformation in some cases are truly amazing and quite heartwarming.”

Returning this year are Australia’s Got Talent (with judges Kyle Sandilands, Dannii Minogue and Brian McFadden all returning) and Dancing with the Stars. Brynne Edelsten has been rumoured to be joining.

“There’s a few names signed already and I think there will be some eyeballs popping, especially in Melbourne,” he hints.

The Matty Johns Show has also been on the rumour mill with talk of a later slot or even airing on 7mate.

Worner says the show’s budget precludes it as a 7mate proposition, but he doesn’t rule out similar ideas for the future. There are also questions about an AFL show.

“As soon as digital penetration reaches the right level, which it very nearly is, the prospect of doing football analysis shows on 7mate is very real. But specifically there is no real decision on either of those projects but they will become front-burner in about 10 days.”

Despite Seven’s failure with The Bounce, there is still a desire to have an AFL counterpart to Matty Johns, but is not guaranteed.

Of the new US titles, Worner is especially upbeat about Body of Proof, starring Dana Delaney as a medical examiner.

“To be honest the Pilot was a bit dodgy in that you didn’t really like her character. But having watched subsequent episodes it keeps on getting better and I think by about Episode 4 or 5 it becomes the procedural crime drama of the last couple of years. I really think it’s got a good chance here. Dana Delaney plays well in this market, and Nic Bishop is exceptionally well known to Seven viewers from Home and Away.”

Also coming in 2011 is No Ordinary Family starring Michael Chiklis and Julie Benz as parents of a family who attain super-powers.

No Ordinary Family is not a Heroes or a FlashForward. It’s broader and you can join after a few episodes. You don’t need all the backstory. It’s a family show.”

Seven also has Law & Order:  Los Angeles, Detroit 1-8-7 and Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior with Forest Whitaker and Janeane Garofalo.

“You’ll know we’re in trouble if you see us with both Criminal Minds shows in the schedule at once,” he jokes.

Meanwhile Desperate Housewives is now switching to Thursday nights, joining How I Met Your Mother, Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice. Seven is hopeful the new line-up might return its Thursdays to the force it enjoyed with early seasons of Lost.

“With this depth of shows it’s a super line-up. You can settle in for the night’s viewing. We’ve got incredible assistance from FOX and ABC Disney in terms of what their artists have done for us with the promos,” says Worner.

Brothers and Sisters, Parenthood and Cougar Town -infamously described by CEO David Leckie as a “sh*t show”- all air earlier in the week.

“David Leckie are in serious agreement on most things but Cougar Town wouldn’t be one of them,” he admits. “I’m a bit of Bill Lawrence fan and I actually think the show has a fair bit more worth than that. I’ve been playing penny-can ever since I saw it on Episode 5 of Cougar Town.”

Coming in the first half of the year is hit UK period drama, Downton Abbey.

Downton Abbey is exquisitely made and Hugh Bonneville is fantastic in it. It’s an unusual choice for us but we found it was a show where people were hankering for the next episode. The girls in the office loved the show and were just about taking it intravenously after episode 2.

“It doesn’t happen with many shows but Downton Abbey is one of those shows.”

Seven has also picked up Great Migrations, the spectacular documentary series from National Geographic.

There are also question marks about two 2010 series yet to be renewed or rejected.

Iron Chef: “Not something we’ve put a line through. We’re more focussed with what’s on the front-burner.”

The X Factor: “We’re still deliberating over The X Factor and over the judges. I will say it was a tremendous-looking show and was in a pretty-tough timeslot. I fear what the opposition might have done with no X Factor against them and you have to factor that into any decision you’re making about it.

“Certainly we’d like to bring it back.”

Of multichannels 7TWO and 7mate he says, “We’ve been getting through some of the lower-tiered content. The offering for both of those channels will improve.”

Doc Martin will be joining 7TWO while 7mate will finally see Jersey Shore.

Finally there is the question of reality juggernaut The Amazing Race.

Season 18, which includes a Sydney stop, premieres in the US on February 20. But Seven also has The Amazing Race Australia which has internet forums buzzing with excitement. Mindful of internet spoilers for the US series, Worner says Seven is still mulling whether to premiere the Australian edition first.

“The very discussion that is going gangbusters in the blogosphere is also going gangbusters in the Seven Programming offices right now,” he says.

“It looks fabulous and the cast is very funny. They make you smile and you don’t really realise that you’re smiling.”

Hosted by Grant Bowler (Border Security, The Mole, True Blood, Lost, Outrageous Fortune), the Aussie race may also draw upon 7mate, but Worner won’t reveal how. Wherever it appears, it seems assured of a big audience.

“On the research we do it scores higher than any show on any network in terms of intention to view and yet we’ve hardly run any promos for it,” he says.

“I’ll say this there are some contestants who haven’t travelled very well. So there are some extremely funny moments.”

TOMORROW: Nine Network

31 Comments:

  1. Armchair Analyst

    David this Question is for You. Do you know whether 7 has the rights to Hercules or does Ten still have it? Because it looks like 7 have acquired the rights to Xena: Warrior Princes, which is a good acquisition.

  2. Armchair Analyst

    All i want from the 7 Network this year is to have programs which start on time and in the same time slot. I want them to have faith in the content that they have purchased from overseas and commissioned here. For those who are angry with the use of 7mate a HD channel and no or lack of Content in HD then that is a small problem in comparison to the likes of problems the viewers have had to put up with the problems that i have stated above. lets see the networks like 7 get the simple things right then they can focus on the more complex ones. Personally i dont need dramas and certain other genres of programing in HD, Sport and Movies are an exception.

  3. Secret Squïrrel

    David, I appreciate that your interview focusses on up-coming program content, but along with some others I really would have liked to hear what Worner’s views are on the current lack of HD content, and whether that’s likely to change in the near future.

    Same goes for Nine tomorrow.

  4. I think if 7 airs TAR18 it will be in a very low profile slot either 10:30 or on digital just to keep the die-hard fans happy. I think Otherwise it will be TAR overload and will only harm the Aus version.

  5. I would love to see the amazing race aust have something like x factor had ( the interview show after on 72)any good names 4 it (mine are ” mat chat ” , “after the pit stop ” and elimation station”) . I also hope 7 do a racers revealed ep like the asian verson of tar

  6. The potentially annoying thing about Downton Abbey airing on 7 will be the commercial breaks. The joy of getting involved in rich Brit bonnet drama’s like this is being immersed completely for an hour or so. ITV still has it’s ads but the UK ad breaks are spaced out in sizeable chunks. Just saying…

  7. Worner: “Definitely the telling of Australian stories is synonymous with the Seven brand and that’s something we work at maintaining.”

    Really? Has he ever seen ABC or SBS?

  8. “Not only does Seven hold an enviable reputation with in-house drama, but it has a rich local slate in other genres: factual, lifestyle, sport and news” – yes, such an enviable reputation for showing sport live and in HD. Oops, sorry, I was thinking of One…

  9. Ronan Keating was asked by Danish (I think) press a couple weeks ago about whether he’d be returning to Australia for more X Factor. He told them that 7 had asked him back and that he will be doing it. I think the show will be back, with cost trimmings where and when possible (e.g. filming the “judges houses’ scenes locally, and without “mega” names like Usher, Snoop and Kelly Rowland), and a different timeslot (hopefully 7:30 Tuesdays for the performance shows). If there is to be any big change re. judges, I think Guy & Kyle would be up for the chop – Guy because he has heaps of other committments with his music career, and Kyle, because well, he’s just rubbish.

    I would think that if 7 were going to axe the show, they would have announced it by now.

  10. Great Interview David.

    I agree with Worner on Body of Proof. I think its the best new show going to come here from the previews i have seen and hoping it does well in the US. Seven sort of need a good few New US shows. ATM their output deals are giving them quite a few duds.

    Interesting point with the Criminal Minds stuff but you know what he makes a lot of sense actually. They will overlap eventually surely but why waste content of a franchise all at once.

    Hoping X Factor comes back this year and hoping Seven move it to where these shows succeed and thats Tuesday/Wednesday. Its the best option imo.

    The Amazing Race should come before The Amazing Race Australia. That way they can effectively use TAR to advertise TAR Australia. This is the one show which i think is going to take off big time when it goes to air.

  11. they want to have an afl show like like the matty johns show to compete against the afl footy show. they never learn do they. comedy shows on 7 is a terrible idea. just look at all the axed comedy shows over the last few years. the matty johns show is terrible. it will hit the second year blues and everyone will wake up to how unfunny matty is

  12. i say have the US TAR first then after it has been shown, put on AUS TAR. that way US TAR can help promote AUS TAR. i hope that what seven do is like what they did with X factor and have an AUS TAR Plus or something like that. when the show has aired they have a 30min interview with the eliminated team on 7mate. that would be awesome! 😀

  13. As Andrew B says…what is happening with zilch HD? 2 years ago all the Australian dramas were simulcast in High Definition. They can still do it on 7mate.

    I would love to hear the network’s comment on this. I expect that as usual in this country, they are aiming for the lowest common denominator.

    And if Nines next perhaps you could get them to comment on the way they treat people who are interested in quality, please David.

  14. We are certainly spoilt for choice. My problem is I will have to cull some of the shows I watch and be more selective about picking up new offerings. Just don’t have the time to sit and enjoy all that is on offer. Conviction Kitchen is one I wasn’t going to bother with but the interview has convinced me to give it a go.

    I really hope they aren’t firing all their ammunition early and not leaving some of the good stuff for the back end of the year.

  15. Whatever you do, please keep City Homicide. Best Australian police drama, and 2nd best Australian tv show. Keep it.

    And they should play the US Amazing Race and then when that concludes lead straight in to the Aussie version. Coul deven have the finale of US and premiere of Australian one back to back.

  16. Looking forward to Wild Boys (although the title makes me think it will be a completely different show), No Ordinary Family, Downton Abbey and both versions of the Amazing Race (although I would like to see the US version screened first to avoid spoilers).

  17. Brynne Edelsten on Dancing with the Stars? Wow!! this is sool cool. Sorry I mean who on earth is Brynne Edelsten?

    I like this comment “…Body of Proof, starring Dana Delaney as a medical examiner. .. the Pilot was a bit dodgy in that you didn’t really like her character. But having watched subsequent episodes it keeps on getting better…”

    Well thats not promising, if the first episode is bad and doesn’t rate it will be canned we wont get to see the improvements in episodes 4, 5 and onwards.

  18. No don’t put the amazing race aust on 7 mate it will do bad in ratings . Put the amazing race aust on the main chanel with tar 18 fastracked ( if you want to put it on 7 mate put it on as a timeshif )

  19. i hope they show the US version of TAR first as otherwsie people just watch it via another means. Its past contentents back for another go so will be one to really watch.

  20. Wonder is David Leckie is eating his word over Cougar Town, going strong in the US it looks like it could be sticking around for a while, maybe he just can’t play penny-can?

  21. Good interview David.
    Interesting point on running two Criminal Minds……I would suggest running two Bones a week with limited episodes remaining says to me they are in trouble!!

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